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'Hlp my hse is brnin dwn!' London Fire Brigade plan to take 999 emergency calls via Twitter and FacebookThe UK's largest brigade to look at alternatives to 999Union bosses call the idea 'ludicrous'
Fire chiefs say it won't replace the current phone system
14:36 GMT, 19 December 2012
Twitter users could soon be able to report emergencies in 140 characters and bypass 999 calls under proposals aimed at making communication with the UK's biggest fire service easier.
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has said that it will explore the idea of setting up the world's first 999 emergency feed to ease pressure on the telephone service which takes more than 30million calls a year.
The plans, which are part of the Brigade's Draft London Safety Plan, will not replace the 999 system.
Help: Twitter users could soon be able to report emergencies in 140 characters or less
But the plans have been slammed by union chiefs who believe that the idea could put lives at risk.
Ian Leahair, Fire Brigades Union executive council member for London told the Independent: 'It is a ludicrous idea.
'It will inevitably lead to more hoax calls. They sound like something the London Fire Brigade has just blurted out.'
Some Twitter users had already taken to the social networking site to report fires according to the LFB, and fire crews have previously used information and pictures tweeted by members of the public to help tackle emergencies.
But fire chiefs have urged people to continue to dial 999 as their Twitter feed @LondonFire is not currently manned around the clock.
The service will look at different social media, micro-blogging sites and smart-phone apps as alternatives to the current telephone system.
It cites figures from Ofcom that suggest that the number of people talking on the phone is in decline and that 20 per cent of adults now use a smart phone.
Emergency: Fire crews could soon come to your aid after a Twitter request for help
Not up and running: Fire chiefs have urged people to continue to dial 999 to report fires as its Twitter feed is not currently manned round the clock (file picture)
Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner of London Fire Brigade, said: 'With over a billion people now using Facebook and half a billion using Twitter, it’s quite clear that social media is here to stay.
'The London Fire Brigade is the biggest fire service in the country and we think it’s important to look into ways to improve how we communicate with the public and how they can get in touch with us.'
New idea: The plans are part of the LFB's Draft London Safety Plan
Although the Brigade has said it will work with other emergency services in London, both the London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police distanced themselves from the idea and said that they have no plans to introduce a similar service.
But the LFB said that cynics rubbished the idea of dialling 999 in an emergency when it was first introduced more than seven decades ago.
Rita Dexter added: 'When it was first set up in 1935, people said that dialling 999 to report emergencies would never work.
'Today BT handles over 30 million emergency calls each year.
'It’s time to look at new ways for people to report emergencies quickly and efficiently and social media could provide the answer in the future.'
The LFB currently uses Twitter to give real-time updates on developing incidents and Facebook to offer fire prevention and safety advice to Londoners.
The plan will be subject to a public consultation next month.
According to Twitter, 2,000 messages are sent per second worldwide.